Smart Plugs Don’t Save You Energy, But Don’t Consume Much Either

Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and just about every electronic device manufacturer are jumping on the bandwagon of connected devices. They promise us the ability to turn on our toaster from another room, unlock our doors just by shouting at them from outside, and change the channel on our TV through perfectly enunciating a sentence instead of mashing the buttons on our remotes like chumps. And yet, despite all this new-fangled finger-less control, there is an unanswered question: does this technology save us energy in the long run?

For years we’ve been hearing about vampire power and all the devices in our home that sit in standby, waiting for their masters to turn them on, quietly burning power to listen for that signal to wake. Fortunately the One Watt Initiative and general awareness and design for energy savings has cut out a lot of this phantom load. So how does the smart home, which essentially adds a bunch of connected vampires to our base load, end up saving money in the long run? And is it better than other alternatives or just good habits? I put these questions to the test with today’s smart power strips and controllable outlets.

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Ultimate Remote is Ultimate

[Joedefa] had a Griffin Beacon Universal Remote that was collecting dust, and decided that it needed to stop collecting dust. He had a growing number of wireless devices in his house and found himself in need of a remote to control them all. The Griffin Beacon fit the bill, but most of his lights and outlets were RF controlled. So he did what hackers do best… broke out the screw driver and soldering iron and rewired it!

[Joedefa] is using an Attiny85 as the brains between an infrared LED and a RF transmit module (if anyone can identify the source of this module, please let everyone know in the comments).  A pair of red and green LEDs lets him know if the remote has received commands successfully.

It’s always nice to see a discontinued product made useful once more with a little ingenuity and an Arduino some hacking skill. Hat’s off to [Joedefa] for a righteous hack!

Getting an Arduino to control a wireless outlet

[Reza’s] methodical investigation of this remote controlled outlet let him patch in with an Arduino using a 433 MHz transmitter. This is a single-device unit, but the techniques used here should allow you to take control of wireless rigs that have multiple modules to control many devices.

We’ve seen some folks at our local hackerspace try to patch into the remote control itself. That used some type of weird button scanning (not just connecting a pin to ground or voltage) and didn’t pan out. [Reza] doesn’t even crack open the case of either of the units seen above. Instead, he goes straight for a wireless receiver he had on hand, using a logic analyzer to capture the signals coming from the remote.

Once he had a good snapshot of the signals sent when pressing the on or off button of the remote he set out to replicate it in his Arduino code. His function called setStateWithDelay takes three parameters: the transmit pin, the level (high or low), and a number of milliseconds to delay. Each signal calls this function many times, but working the bugs out is pretty easy; just capture the signal with the logic sniffer and compare to the stock remote.